Look who's making big money on Arizona sports betting (and who's not)

Opinion: Every day is Christmas for the owners of Arizona's professional sports teams, who are raking in the dough from sports betting.

Merry Christmas, Ken Kendrick and Michael Bidwill. And you, Alex Meruelo and Robert Sarver.

In the first six months of legalized sports betting, Arizona’s sports books – and the professional sports team owners who have teamed up with them – have raked in a cool $225 million, according to a report by the Arizona Mirror’s Dillon Rosenblatt.

Given that, I can only imagine the untold riches rolling into the state treasury as a result of opening the state to legalized sports betting.

In fact, I’ll just have to imagine those untold riches because the public’s cut of the take is a joke: not even $10 million.

You know what else is a joke? That part of Arizona’s constitution that says our leaders can’t offer public gifts to their pals.

Yet for Gov. Doug Ducey’s major donors, every day is Christmas, courtesy of the state of Arizona.

Every interest was at the table, except the public's

Ducey was hot to open up the state to lucrative sports betting last year. Even the Center for Arizona Policy’s Cathi Herrod and the rest of the state’s anti-gambling crowd knew not to get in the way of that juggernaut. (They were curiously silent despite lobbying against every previous expansion of betting in the state.)

In the Legislature, Republicans and Democrats joined hands to pass the massive giveaway – Republicans because of the benefit to major donors and Democrats because the deal also allowed an expansion of gaming on Native American reservations.

Every interest was represented at the negotiating table except, of course, for the public’s interest.

The bill authorized up to 10 off-reservation licenses to set up sportsbooks in or near stadiums, golf courses and racetracks.

But rather than auctioning off the 10 lucrative licenses to the highest bidder – bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars into the state treasury – the bill gave the owners of the state’s professional sports franchises the exclusive rights to run these bookie operations.

It likely comes as no surprise that the bill was supported by the Arizona Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns, along with Phoenix International Raceway, the PGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, most of the tribes and several fantasy sports operations.

$2.8 billion in bets got us $8.5 million in revenue
Bidwill and Kendrick are major backers of the governor. There’s no way of knowing how much they contribute given all the “dark money” that flows like a raging river through this state come campaign season.

But campaign finance reports show that Coyotes’ owner Alex Meruelo this year has pumped roughly $80,000 into the campaigns of lawmakers who are supporting legislation that would allow him to open his SaharaBets sportsbook at his temporary arena digs at Arizona State University.

Clearly, it’s money well spent. According to the Department of Gaming, sportsbooks have made $225 million during their first six months of operation, from September through February. That’s off of $2.8 billion in bets.

The state’s cut? A measly $8.5 million.

That’s way off from the bill sponsor’s estimate. Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chander, in pushing the bill last year estimated it could bring as much as $100 million a year into state coffers.

That would buy a lot of non-banned library books.

Somebody’s making big money. Unfortunately, and as usual, it isn’t us.

This editorial is a reprint from AZCentral.com. To view the original opinion piece, share and comment, click here.

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